The Choice is clear: Go with Tashard

INDIANAPOLIS -- A few days after his radio rip job on Tashard Choice's special-teams work, Jerry Jones didn't seem too concerned about the running back's ability to cover punts and kickoffs.

Choice's 100-yard performance apparently knocked some common sense into the Dallas Cowboys' owner/general manager.

"He's about to earn himself a spot where he doesn't have to make up for his special-teams shortcoming," Jones said after the Cowboys' 38-35 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. "The third back has to be a whiz. But if you're the second back, you don't necessarily need to be a whiz on special teams."

Goodbye, Marion Barber. Take your time getting well from that strained calf that kept you from making the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium. Good luck at your next NFL stop.

Jones didn't go so far as to announce Barber's demotion -- and interim Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was noncommittal on the subject -- but it ought to be obvious to anybody who knows how many points there are on a football that Choice is the better back. Frankly, it's befuddling that the Cowboys' coaching staff didn't reach that conclusion long ago.

There shouldn't even be a debate after Choice gashed the Colts for 100 yards on 19 carries, including a 20-yard touchdown run on which he displayed burst, vision and elusiveness that Barber simply doesn't possess.

Heck, Choice rushed for 47 yards on six carries in the first half. Barber, whose average of 3.1 yards per carry ranks dead last among backs with at least 100 attempts this season, had more rushing yards in only one of the first 11 games.
But Choice couldn't get off the bench other than to stink it up on special teams most of the season. That makes absolutely zero sense.

The only somewhat sensible explanation is that Jerry meddled, demanding that the running back he pays like a Pro Bowler remains in the rotation. But Jerry strongly insists that isn't the case.

The only other possible explanation is that the coaches simply believe Choice can't play. And that would be just awful personnel evaluation.

"Everybody doubts me," Choice said. "You hear what people say about me: 'He's not good enough. If he was good enough, he'd be playing.' All that stuff just motivates me. Just get me on the field, man. Every time I made a run, every time I do something, it's just another way to tell people, 'Here I am.'"

The chip on Choice's shoulder is certainly understandable, but everybody doesn't doubt him. It just seems that way because of those who do make the decisions on who gets carries for the Cowboys.

Garrett didn't exactly gush about Choice even after he matched the number of 100-yard rushing games Felix Jones and Barber have combined for all season.

"Certainly, Tashard did a nice job with the opportunity he's gotten, and anybody that's watched our football team has seen that in the past," Garrett said. "We liked what he did today. I just think as a team we ran the ball as well as we have all year long."

OK, give the offensive line, fullback and tight ends some credit for giving Choice room to run. But those guys were also blocking for Felix Jones, who wasn't nearly as productive (22 carries for 83 yards).

This was the best the Cowboys have run the ball all season for two major reasons: (1) It was the first time they relied heavily on Choice; (2) they were playing against a run defense that entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL.

However, it's not fair to Choice to discount his performance because of the poor competition. He's the same back who rushed for 325 yards (5.2 per carry) against run defenses ranked second, third, fourth and ninth in the NFL in December 2008, when the rest of the Cowboys crumbled.

"If you look at everything Tashard has done every time he's had the opportunity to really step up, which would include years in the past, then it's pretty hard to argue that he doesn't give us a lift when he comes in," Jerry said. "I bet he gets -- I don't bet, I know -- that he'll get recognition for that."

Garrett is so stubborn that he indicated that Barber's health would be a determining factor in Choice's role. Here's some advice: Just put Barber on the injured reserve.

Jerry wasn't ready to go that far, but he's certainly not in any hurry to see Barber back on the field.

"We'll go real light and easy there, especially considering how well Tashard is playing," Jerry said. "We'll give that time, plenty of time to get well."

Barber's stumble at the 1-yard line late in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints should have been his last carry in a Cowboys uniform. It'd be an awful business move to pay Barber $4.25 million next season when Choice can be more productive at a mere fraction of the salary.

Barber's injury forced the Cowboys to do something that should have happened in September: Give Choice a chance to get the running game going. Let Lonyae Miller cover punts and kickoffs.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.